Feature: Community sports projects see unexpected boom amid COVID-19 pandemic

Source: Xinhua| 2020-10-30 11:10:20|Editor: huaxia

by Yosley Carrero

HAVANA, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Cubans find a way to keep fit by playing sports with neighbors and friends.

Alejandro Terry, who is a medical doctor, is the leader of a community sports project in Santa Fe, a fishing town on the outskirts of the country's capital Havana.

The 27-year-old said the story began in early July when a group of Santa Fe residents met by the sea for running after a three-month COVID-19 hiatus.

"Initially, it was only about running, but then we added cycling and swimming," he told Xinhua. "At present, we are open to all sports, and both nationals and foreigners are welcome here."

Wearing face masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines, they either bike around Havana or run along the beach, sending a message about the necessity to stay safe during the health emergency.

"Sports practice activates our muscles and helps our bodies to stay in harmony," he added.

So far, close to 80 people have joined the project not only for fitness but to improve their immune system and, subsequently, better confront the virus in case of getting infected.

Also, the initiative has been endorsed by people suffering from obesity, hypertension, or any other underlying condition that put COVID-19 patients at higher risk for severe illness from the virus.

Among them is 25-year-old Suris Sarmientos, who was diagnosed with diabetes when she was eight years old.

"I always thought sports practice had nothing to do with me, but this project has made me change my mind," she said. "Regular exercises are improving my cardiovascular fitness and breathing."

Home to nearly 20 percent of the country's population, Havana has accounted thus far for more than 50 percent of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Cuba.

With gyms still shut down as a precautionary measure to minimize the risk of contracting the virus, many people have turned to outdoor spaces to reconnect with sports practice and nature.

Indeed, William Fajardo, 30, who works as a pilot for the Cuban aviation company Cubana de Aviacion, has become a member of Terry's project to get rid of stress and practice sports after flying a plane.

"I am here with them because I love sports," he said. "For instance, many adults are learning how to swim with us. That is very positive."

Terry's project is just one piece of the big picture of community sports projects across the country.

Like people in Terry's project, thousands of Cubans have found in regular sports practice an effective way to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic as the country gradually adapts to the new normality.

Currently, Cuba's National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) promotes sports festivals and activities in urban and rural areas for the benefit of all age groups, including senior citizens.

"We also work together with health authorities to reduce the impact of non-communicable diseases on the Cuban population," Eric Gutierrez, national director of physical recreation at INDER, told Xinhua.

"The country continues preparing officials, trainers and activists working even in the most remote communities to develop and spread sports practice wherever required," he added. Enditem